The most iconic Restaurants in Tampa, Florida.

Tampa Food & Travel Guide

Welcome to my journey through Tampa, a city where the warmth of the sun meets the richness of cultural and culinary experiences. This city is famed for its Cuban influence, vibrant nightlife, and nearby beaches. I was fortunate to live in three different neighborhoods during my time here, and that allowed me to experience the city from different viewpoints. Below, I share my favorite Tampa spots – from culinary gems to iconic landmarks. Let’s delve into the heart of this city, exploring the flavors and sights that made me fall in love with Tampa.

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Best Cuban Sandwiches in Tampa, Florida

The Best Cuban Sandwiches in Tampa

The Cuban sandwich was created in Tampa in the late 1800s. Here is where to find the best Cuban sandwiches in Tampa – the perfect mix of ham, salami, pork, cheese, pickles, and mustard on pressed fresh Cuban bread.

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Best Time to Visit Tampa

The best time to visit Tampa depends on your reasons for coming, so here are my thoughts about what seasons are best.

Generally speaking, spring is typically considered the best time to come. Temperatures should be in the 70s and 80s °F so you can generally wear summer clothes. If you head to the beach areas, then the Gulf water might still have a bit of a chill in the early spring, but you should be able to go in. By summer it gets very hot and humid, though the beach areas will be helped by a slight breeze and warm water.

The winter is a great time to escape the cold in the northern states. But Tampa won’t have the tropical warm weather of the Caribbean. I was still able to wear shorts most days, but you will likely want to wear a light jacket or sweatshirt, or at least have them handy for night-time. There will be a several days in December and January that will get outright cold, dipping into the 40s so you will need to plan for this. January is also when the annual Gasparilla parade is held. This is a vibrant and historic event that celebrates the mythical Spanish pirate, Jose Gaspar. It features an invasion by the “pirates” aboard the Jose Gasparilla ship, followed by a lively parade with elaborate floats, marching bands, and participants dressed in pirate attire. It draws hundreds of thousands of attendees. And yes, alcohol will be flowing freely among the crowds that day.

Where to Stay in Tampa

There are four main areas in Tampa where you are likely to stay.

  • Downtown: This is the best area to stay in if you are visiting for hockey games, concerts, or want to be near a business located downtown. This area is very walkable and has the most hotels. You can find upscale options like JW Marriott and Tampa EDITION, as well as several mid-priced options.
  • Hyde Park: This is a very nice residential area that also has restaurants and nightlife along South Howard Ave. The Epicurean Hotel is one of the best hotels in Tampa and gives a quieter atmosphere than those downtown. Plus, it’s right across from the famous Bern’s Steakhouse.
  • Airport: Best for travelers in town for business who want quick access to the airport. Although the location does give it access to both the beach areas and downtown, so if you are in town for pleasure, then the two hotels I’d recommend are The CURRENT Hotel or the Grand Hyatt.
  • Ybor City: This is the area to stay if you want nightlife. Hotel Haya is the nicest option, but the Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn may run a bit cheaper.

For more details about the best hotels in Tampa, check out my post below:

Cuban Influence in Tampa

The Cuban influence in Tampa, particularly in the historic neighborhood of Ybor City, is a defining aspect of the city’s cultural and social fabric. This influence dates back to the late 19th century when Vicente Martinez-Ybor moved his cigar manufacturing operations from Cuba to Tampa, leading to the development of Ybor City as a major cigar production hub. The arrival of Cuban cigar workers, along with Spanish and Italian immigrants, transformed the area into a vibrant community, rich in Latin heritage.

Cuban culture in Tampa is celebrated through its cuisine, festivals, and architecture. The city is famous as the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich, a culinary icon that reflects Tampa’s multicultural influences. It is traditionally made with Cuban bread, ham, roasted pork, salami, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. This sandwich symbolizes the fusion of the cultures that have shaped Tampa’s identity.

Ybor City, often referred to as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” preserves the historical legacy of the Cuban, Spanish, and Italian workers who settled there. The neighborhood’s Latin influence is evident in its architecture, with many buildings reflecting Spanish-Cuban styles, and in the social clubs founded by immigrants from these communities.

Today, Tampa’s Cuban community continues to play a significant role in the city’s cultural life, maintaining traditions while contributing to the city’s dynamic and diverse character. The Cuban influence is a cherished part of Tampa’s identity, making the city a unique place where history and heritage are celebrated and preserved.

Is Tampa A Walkable City?

The downtown area where you will find the hockey arena, many hotels, and the cruise ships is very walkable. There is a free streetcar that connects this area to Ybor City, which is a popular nightlife district. If you are in town for just a few days for a game, concert, or perhaps business, then you can easily get by without a car. And Uber can be used for one off trips outside these areas.

But if you are here for a longer period of time or want to explore the beach areas and other neighborhoods then I definitely suggest a car.

Free streetcar in Tampa that connects downtown with Ybor City
Tampa Streetcar

How Far Are the Beaches from Tampa?

Tampa is ideally located near some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches, making it a perfect starting point for beach lovers. But the city itself lies tucked away on the bay, and so is not directly on the coast with the beaches.

However, the Ben T. Davis Beach is located on the Tampa side of the Causeway to Clearwater. This is the closest beach, approximately 10-15 minutes from downtown Tampa, offering easy access to the calming waters of Tampa Bay. While not the best beach, you will find many people come here to Jet Ski and Whiskey Joe’s is a popular bar beside the beach.

But for those seeking more of a traditional Gulf Coast beach experience, Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are a 40-minute drive away (though can be much longer in seasonal traffic). These world-renowned beaches boast miles of white sand and crystal-clear waters, ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and water sports. So, while Tampa itself isn’t known for great beaches, they are very accessible.

Clearwater Beach is about a 40-minute drove from Tampa, depending on traffic

How to Get Downtown from the Airport

To get from Tampa International Airport (TPA) to Downtown Tampa, there are several convenient options:

  1. Taxis and Rideshares: Taxis are readily available outside the baggage claim area. Additionally, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft operate at TPA, offering direct rides to downtown Tampa. The pick-up area for rideshares is usually designated outside the baggage claim level. This is what I have typically done. Check the Uber app for pricing, as fares can range from $30 to much more during prime times.

  2. Public Transportation: The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) operates bus services that can take you from the airport to downtown. Route 30 (TPA Airport/Downtown) offers a direct and affordable way to reach downtown Tampa. Check the HART website for the latest schedules and fares.

  3. Rental Cars: If you prefer driving yourself, several rental car companies operate at Tampa International Airport. You can rent a car from the Rental Car Center, which is accessible from the airport via the SkyConnect people mover. This is what I recommend if you are staying in town for a longer period of time or are planning to go explore sights like the beach areas or Busch Gardens.

  4. Shared Shuttle Services: Companies like Super Shuttle and Express Transportation offer shared shuttle services from TPA to various locations in Tampa, including downtown. This can be a cost-effective option if you’re looking to share the ride with other passengers.